Date of Award

2006

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Forest Resources

Advisor

Wilbur F. LaPage

Second Committee Member

John J. Daigle

Third Committee Member

Kathryn J. Olmstead

Abstract

Tourism, as Maine’s No. 1 industry, draws approximately 44 million visitors annually who spend $6 billion and contribute $340 million in sales tax. Despite these figures, annual statistics show zero growth or, often, loss, with the exception of the outdoor recreation sector. The tourism industry, made of government bodies, recreation associations and individual businesses, depends on the health of the natural resources and the compliance of related players, such as landowners. Discontent exists with the state and the industry’s leadership. The quandary comes in determining which actions to take to improve the state’s existing nature-based tourism into a sustainable industry that nurtures the natural and cultural resources as it develops economic opportunities. On Nov. 17, 2003, Gov. John Baldacci hosted the Blaine House Conference on Natural Resource-based Industries to gather stakeholders together. For the first time, tourism was included at the same table as the other natural resource industries to enhance how they operate individually and together. The tourism sector produced four proposals: increased educational efforts, strengthened state government roles and responsibilities, enhanced economic development planning and improved branding strategies. This study, independent of the conference and funded by the Office of Tourism, gathered voices of tourism stakeholders to understand opinions on interrelated topics covering the entire state. Methods included semi-structured interviews of 43 private, public and non-profit stakeholders placed in three tourism categories – direct, indirect and related. Direct stakeholders sell a tourism product or experience; indirect stakeholders come from non-tourism businesses, such as landowners; and related stakeholders work for government, non-profits or academia. The purpose of this study is to pinpoint what is threatening the industry and to gain an understanding of the potential for a unified sustainable tourism vision. Participants were asked to describe the present state of the industry, what is being done well, what is being done poorly, recommendations for action and an ideal for the industry. Qualitative inquiry, used increasingly in tourism research, details richness and complexity. Responses were analyzed in the context of the Blaine House recommendations. Findings reflect the disorder of the industry, capturing a frustrated tone pervasive at all levels. Recommendations can develop opportunities incorporating sustainability principles. Suggestions include: • Create an interagency state tourism board, including paid private entrepreneurs, to have all relevant parties at the same table • Broaden the mandate of the Office of Tourism to do more than marketing, such as infrastructure and community development • Design a master plan, through industry and government efforts, to distribute to towns to make them aware of tourism’s potential and to allow them to implement their own strategies • Analyze land access to allow or limit recreational experiences to decrease user conflicts, ensure high-quality opportunities and maintain good landowner relations In conclusion, tourism’s future depends on more analysis of stakeholder input so industry leaders can have buy-in from varied players and can guide policy. In the process, the industry needs to measure success by the quality of the experience, which will ensure return visitation with economic, ecological and cultural benefits.

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